A cliché is a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. For example, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison.” But have you ever given any thought to how cliches reveal gender stereotypes? When we say that a parent’s gesture is “as tender as a mother’s heart,” does that imply that a father’s touch is not equally as tender? We tell a person who obsesses, “you have a bee in your bonnet,” as if only women obsess. Or we console heartbroken friends by saying “a good man is hard to find,” overlooking the fact that the chemistry factor is complicated. Are women incomplete until they find “a knight in shining armor?” If “a man’s home is his castle,” what about a woman’s home? We insult the child and the mother when we say he/she/they have “a face only a mother could love.” And in the spirit of either/or thinking, we challenge men to be courageous by asking “are you a man or a mouse?”
Worse than boring, cliches are stale ways of speaking about life. The phrases we’ve heard over and over again go into a mental groove, but when used, display a lack of original thinking that can dilute the impact of the point you are trying to make. Life today is dynamic, so it’s important you use fresh, interesting language, especially when talking about such matters as parenting, obsession, relationships, conventional domesticity, and courage. This is especially true for speakers who want to lead a change effort. You need to frame issues and topics in your own voice, avoiding the use of stale, dated language that lacks impact.
It’s not easy to find the right words if you’re discussing a controversial topic or delicate issue, especially to an audience you don’t know. To help connect with the people you are speaking to, draw from experiences and consider speaking to the group as you would friends and colleagues. What do you want the people listening to you to understand from your own life lessons? Mull it over. Let your thoughts take root and find your own way of talking without relying on tired cliches that might highlight gender constraints. To find unique and interesting ways to express your thoughts, “leave no stone unturned” (just kidding!)